Clackamas County sees 31% decrease in homelessness from last year

The 2023 Point in Time Count found 410 people experiencing homelessness in Clackamas County, a 31% decrease from last year.
Published: May. 19, 2023 at 8:07 AM PDT
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CLACKAMAS COUNTY Ore. (KPTV) - The 2023 Point in Time Count found 410 people experiencing homelessness in Clackamas County, a 31% decrease from last year. This includes a 45% decrease in the unsheltered population and 14% decrease in the sheltered population.

“I think we are really excited because we are seeing great progress as we do this really important work,” said Clackamas County Commissioner Ben West. “It’s definitely a human need, right? This is a human issue we all really care about. I’m really proud of the work we are doing and we look forward to continuing to get Clackamas County to a functional zero of homeless, people who are persistently homeless in our county.”

“It’s very encouraging,” said Vahid Brown, the Clackamas County Deputy Director of Housing and Community Development. “It’s down again. This is the second year in a row our numbers have gone down. It’s not a celebratory moment in the sense that it’s a mission accomplished thing, that we’ve done it and ended homelessness because we haven’t, but it’s encouraging to know that the people who do this work to make a difference this community are doing it. They are making a difference. Hundreds of people who have been experiencing homelessness are in housing and that’s great news.”

Clackamas County Commissioner West says the county has been focusing on recovery-oriented system of care.

“We have set a vision and we have set a worldview that talks about a recovery-oriented system of care that helps gets people from a place of despair and disfunction to a place of self-sufficiency,” said West. “Along the way there is accountability and hope, but we are not allowing people not comfortable with subsisting in that disfunction. So we are engaging them with very robust outreach. We are in the streets, we are in the parks, we are in the fields, we are in the wooded areas, wherever they are at our staff and our nonprofits are there engaging with them, treating them as individuals, understanding they have a distinct story, value, and worth. As we build that relationship over time with them, we are ready to help them when they are ready to transition to change and to get the help that they need. We are slowly, through relationships, through building a profile, one by one we are chipping away at this persistent problem we’ve all been dealing with.”

In 2022, Clackamas County reported helping over 6,500 people through homeless prevention and housing programs. The county began its first street outreach program, which tracks residents experiencing homelessness by name, builds trust with them, and connects people to shelter and permanent housing.

Vahid Brown, Deputy Director of Housing and Community Development says his office has been working to implement supportive housing services funding. It was created by Measure 26-210, which was passed by voters in the Portland metro area in 2020 to reduce homelessness through programs and services that help people find and keep safe and stable homes.

“It’s made a world of difference for Clackamas County,” said Brown. “We went from having less than $10 million a year to support people experiencing homelessness to having more than $50 million a year. So it’s a significant jump. We have been expanding our programs and services with community-based organizations, bringing in new community-based organizations into the county and growing our family of providers that work with people experiencing homelessness. My office has been the coordinator and funder of this community-wide effort to make the difference we are seeing in these numbers.”

Brown says the progress they’ve made in Clackamas County is thanks to the county creating a strong network.

“We are a smaller county and we are able to work closely together with our providers,” said Brown. “We have really strong networks, not just with our community-based organizations that do the human services work, but with our healthcare system, with our behavioral healthcare system, with our law enforcement. They are often an important partner in our outreach programs. So when we have a case conferencing meeting or when we bring the providers together to prioritize who is the next household to end homelessness for them today we have a lot of people at that table and not just the usual suspects. There’s also parole and probation, the transition center from the jail, there are outreach workers from emergency departments, there’s people from the schools who help homeless students. So Clackamas County is such that we are able to really bring the whole community together in a community-wide effort to address this issue.”

Sworn in earlier this year, Commissioner West says he’s been approaching issues, particularly around homelessness and public health, in the county with his nursing background in mind.

“We access the problem, we want to make sure there is prevention, we focus on those interventions, then treatment, then we get people recovery,” said West. “We believe recovery is possible. We believe every single person in Clackamas County is worthy of care and that’s the lens in which we look at it. We’re not sitting back and asking a special interest group to do it or asking someone else to step in, we’re doing the work for our own local communities because we have to solve these problems and it’s on us to take care of our own neighborhoods, our own region, and to lead and be an example and how that’s possible, sometimes with less resources, less money, but sometimes it’s just about the grassroots, care, and love and good policy. Within these last five months I believe I’ve been effective in helping lead the county in a visionary process to help get this specific population cared for and off the streets, to get the wrap-around services they need, and have really great outcomes. Now I was lucky that this county and this staff is amazing and was already doing a lot of the good work. Now, this board is so energized and working in unison to try to be innovative and to look outside of our own bubble and to be very evidence based in our approach. My nursing career very much informs that work. It’s exciting to be in a position where I can put together public service and nursing and work with a very talented staff to do that.”

West says the county has also has conversations with Governor Kotek.

“I’ve been in conversations with Governor Kotek’s office directly,” said West. “My office has been having some back and forth with her office on how do we get the funding and resources necessary to implement recovery-oriented systems of care, recovery models, and specifically we want to start building out recovery centers. Where people aren’t just put there temporarily and aren’t just moved around and failed within a system, but that somebody can be there 18-24 months, receive trauma-informed holistic care for a long period of time that allows them to get clean and sober, but we need that capital investment. Some of that can come from the state, so Governor Kotek has asked us to a specific Senate bill she wants for additional funding, which we did decide to support as a county. We’ve asked her to help dig and try to help us find additional dollars to do some of the innovative and visionary stuff we want to do in Clackamas County. I appreciate the governor’s dialogue with me and hopefully we can find that common ground where she can help do some of this cutting edge stuff in Clackamas County that has been successful in other parts of the country.”

As for what’s next for the county, Commissioner West says they are having conversations on how to do recovery centers or recovery campuses.

“Where there’s large, robust services, long-term and short-term, to meet that person exactly where they’re at and we can plug them into care,” said West. “The robust outreach will continue to go forward. There’s additional innovative housing solutions that we are bringing forward, along with shared housing and additional transition housing next to the veteran’s village is going to come online. How can we prevent people from ever becoming homeless and get way upstream in prevention so we don’t have to deal with it on the more expensive end down here, whether that’s rent assistance, getting them into shared housing, whether that’s getting them into their own place and dealing with something that can stop them from being displaced. Some of that easier stuff is the economic piece, but then also not being afraid to roll up our sleeves, focus, and prioritize those that are the most in need, those who have the most trauma, the most difficult cases that need those robust services and need people to constantly engage right where they are at, meet them right where they’re at, and then walk with them along that path to recovery. We understand that we can’t just focus on housing, we can’t just focus on these different aspects, it’s a whole continuum of care. For example, for housing if you don’t have the right services that are showing good outcomes, instead of somebody overdosing on a park bench they are just going to overdose alone on a hardwood floor. That’s not care. That’s not evidence-based. That’s not the right way to handle this. It is making sure you have all the resources you need and then prioritizing those based on the individual and where they need to be plugged in.”

Brown says he expects the county to continue to see a drop in the number of people experiencing homelessness.

“We have had two sustained years of significant reduction of homelessness as counted in the Point in Time count,” said Brown. “Down 49% last count, down 31% this count, and we are only growing our programs now. So we are starting from the baseline of doing the right thing – what we are doing is working and we are investing more in that system that is working. So we have every expectation that we will continue to see fewer people experiencing homelessness in our county. We are making a difference for people’s live who are from our community. I think it’s important for us to remember that, that ending homelessness in our community is ending homelessness for our neighbors.”